Who was Tom Simpson and how did the cyclist die on Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France?


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This year’s Tour marks the 50th anniversary of his untimely, controversial death at the world’s biggest bike race

TOM Simpson was Britain’s first road cycling world champion, a rider whose success earned him the Sports Personality of the Year award – before it all ended in tragedy and controversy.

With this year’s Tour de France marking the 50th anniversary of his untimely death, here’s the lowdown on a forgotten British sporting icon.

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Tom Simpson was the first Brit to wear the iconic world champion’s rainbow jersey

Who was Tom Simpson?

Tom Simpson was a professional cyclist who became Britain’s first superstar in the sport.

Born in 1937 in County Durham, he rode his first bike at the age of 12 and enjoyed success as a junior growing up in Nottinghamshire.

Simpson gained a bronze medal at the 1958 Olympics in Melbourne, and went pro the following year while still a teenager.

In 1961, he won the Tour of Flanders, one of the five “monuments” – professional cycling’s most prestigious one-day races.

Simpson would go on to add two more, Milan-San Remo in 1964 and the Giro di Lombardia a year later.

Indeed, 1965 proved a remarkable season for the Brit – he won the World Road Race Championships, and was crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Simpson won three of cycling’s five ‘monuments’ in his glittering career

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Simpson won three of cycling’s five ‘monuments’ in his glittering career

Simpson remained the only road cyclist to earn either accolade for almost half a century, before Mark Cavendish repeated the trick in 2011.

While he spent 1966 plagued with injury as he rode in the coveted rainbow jersey of world champion, Simpson started the 1967 season in superb form.

With a string of high-profile victories under his belt, he entered July as one of the overwhelming favourites for the world’s biggest bike race – the Tour de France.

When did Tom Simpson die?

After making a strong start to the 1967 Tour, Simpson fell ill with diarrhoea as the race entered the high mountains and slipped down the race rankings.

Ignoring calls to abandon, the 29-year-old struggled through until the 13th stage on July 13, which scaled Mont Ventoux – a fearsome climb dubbed the “Giant of Provence”.

Riding in intense heat, Simpson lost contact with the leaders and began zig-zagging across the road.

Simpson was helped back onto his bike after collapsing on Mont Ventoux


Simpson was helped back onto his bike after collapsing on Mont Ventoux

Around a kilometre from the summit of the climb he fell, but remounted, brushing off his mechanic’s pleas to quit the race.

He managed another 500 yards before collapsing again, and despite repeated attempts to resuscitate him, was pronounced dead after being airlifted to hospital.

Simpson’s last words were famously reported to be “put me back on my bike”, as he urged his mechanic and manager to set him back on his way.

However, while his desperation to continue is unquestioned, it’s now thought that he simply said: “On, on, on.”

What was Tom Simpson’s cause of death?

Officially, Simpson’s cause of death was heart failure caused by exhaustion.

A post-mortem revealed that he had taken large quantities of amphetamines and alcohol, which proved lethal combined with the heat and his existing stomach problems.

The former World Champion was found with empty amphetamine tubes in his jersey’s back pocket, and was seen filling his drinks bottle with brandy.

Tom Simpson could not be resuscitated despite the best efforts of medical staff on Ventoux

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Tom Simpson could not be resuscitated despite the best efforts of medical staff

Although performance-enhancing drugs had been criminalised in 1965, they were still rife in the world of professional cycling, with authorities turning a blind eye.

The results of Simpson’s autopsy – and the controversy that followed – helped lead to tighter drug testing, although the sport’s uneasy relationship with doping exists to this day.

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